Lawmakers propose soda tax

2014-02-18T06:00:00Z Lawmakers propose soda taxT.J. Fowler tj.fowler@lee.net pantagraph.com
February 18, 2014 6:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois shoppers could find themselves paying extra for soft drinks under a proposed statewide soda tax.

The new plan would add an extra penny on every ounce of sugary drinks sold in sealed containers, along with the syrups and powders used to flavor them.

The tax is part of a broader plan to promote healthy living in Illinois, according to state Sen. Mattie Hunter, D-Chicago, who sponsored the legislation. Revenue from the tax would go toward a range of health services and education initiatives.

"Numerous studies have linked excessive consumption of sugary soft drinks to obesity," Hunter said in an email. "We as a state need to do a better job of educating the public and children in particular about this issue and the health risks."

The proposal has drawn criticism from the Illinois Coalition Against Beverage Taxes — an alliance of manufacturers, retailers and union workers who say the tax would harm the economy and kill jobs in Illinois.

"You reduce consumption, and you reduce employment," said Brian Rainville, a spokesman for Teamsters Joint Council 25 in Chicago and northwest Indiana. "If there's less being made and distributed, there's fewer people doing those jobs.

"Politicians are always talking about creating middle-class jobs, and these are those jobs. These are the good, middle-class jobs that people want to create."

This isn't the first time that legislators and business leaders have fought over a tax on soft drinks.

In 2011, a report by the Cook County Department of Public Health recommended that legislators impose a tax of 2 cents per ounce on all sugar-sweetened beverages.

Though similar measures have won approval in other states, Illinois lawmakers have been unable to get the tax off the ground.

Others say the tax would impose a burden on families trying to purchase groceries.

"This tax adds $2.88 to a (24-pack) case of soda," said Mark Denzler, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers Association. "It's nearly a 50 percent increase in the cost of it. So folks that are scrambling to buy groceries are going to have it even harder."

But Hunter said the plan would save the state money by reducing health care costs.

"Medical expenses associated with obesity cost taxpayers more than $100 million annually," she said. "My goal with this legislation is to increase awareness, improve public health and promote healthy living alternatives in an effort to save lives and money."

The legislation is Senate Bill 3524.

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